A report released this week by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed a link between a major class of pesticides and harm to honeybees, but only when used on certain types of crops. The report showed that pesticides known as neonicotinoids posed a significant risk to honeybees when used on cotton plants and citrus trees but not when used on other big crops like corn and tobacco.
Both the pesticide manufacturer and anti-pesticide advocates were unhappy with the report, which failed to make a clear case for either continued use of neonicotinoids or an outright ban.
Neonicotinoids, chemicals that work on insects’ central nervous systems, have been the subject of intense debate in Europe, where several countries have enacted full or partial bans on their use. Despite this, most scientific bee experts agree that neonicotinoids alone are not to blame for the problem of dwindling bee populations, although they may be a factor in some cases.
Entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois noted that the health of honeybees, agriculture’s top pollinator, is a complex puzzle that includes climate, food for bees, parasites, disease and the way different pesticides and fungicides interact. “People would like a nice simple story with a guy in a black hat as the bad guy, but it’s complicated.”
Our science kitteh, on the other hand, seems to have identified a villain. Oh, dear.